Category: Tools & Techniques

Revisiting Human-Machine Relationships and Efforts of Feminist STS

Alexa, Bixby, the GPS voice, Siri.… AI (Artificial Intelligence) assistants, which operate through algorithms and also produce them, have restructured our everyday lives: from listening to music to getting a sense of where we are (if the GPS is working properly). For users, these “assistants” have become integral parts of our everyday lives. Human-machine communication, in turn, has become more intimate than ever before. However, little effort has been made to understand this intimacy between humans and machines. Instead, much attention has been centered on the increasing obsolescence of technology, as newer models and gadgets enter the market. To recognize machines as sociable and understand human-machine relationships from a different perspective, I revisit feminist STS (Science and Technology Studies) scholars’ works. Furthermore, I look at smartphones, which are usually only considered as hosts for the immaterial AI, as social. (read more...)

Powerpoint Karaoke, a Ph.D. Version

“You win the lottery! You are a millionaire! You never have to work again in life.” This was the first card I drew in the weird little game of Ph.D. life that Quinn Georgic and I designed. I had no idea who wrote it. Everyone was giggling when I read it out loud and started making up the story: “I don’t need to worry about anything, so I started grad school.” The other group was far less fortunate. The card they drew was “You or your partner are pregnant.” (read more...)

People Are Not Fixed Media

Listen to an audio recording of this post as read by Ritwik Banerji Sensory ethnography continually emphasizes that the sensorium is just as much a (product of) sociocultural practice as it is a biophysiological property of the human species (Pink 2015). Recognition of this point has prompted several shifts in ethnographic work. On the one hand, it has pushed ethnographers to include in their writing a greater discussion of how subjects engage with the world through their senses as well as how the putatively biological phenomenon of sensory perception is so highly variable across and within sociocultural milieux. On the other, it has inspired ethnographers to pursue media practices beyond text, particularly through ethnographic film or sound recording (Feld 1991). Regardless of form, this work has greatly increased the possibility for the reader, listener, or viewer to experience with their senses the social environment that subjects inhabit and where the ethnographer conducted fieldwork. (read more...)

Multiple Modes of Being Human

(Editor’s Note: This blog post is part of the Thematic Series Data Swarms Revisited) In the last couple of years, I have been toying around with the ideas of “modes of humanism,” “inventing new modes of being human,” and modes of existence, such as data swarms and the pre-, post-, and transhuman. However, I was never really able to wrap my head around the question, what it really means when Bergson, Simondon, and others speak about the possibilities of “new modes of being human.” Modes of being human signify a multiplicity of possible forms of being human. These forms differ historically and culturally. (read more...)

Screenshots of the Field: Viral Loads and the Contagious Potentials of Digital Ethnography

Over the course of the past six months, I have been actively doing fieldwork on HIV care in Turkey on Zoom. Believe it or not, for an anxious person like myself, who to this date did not approach or talk to anyone in the field without being completely soaked in sweat, I have actually been enjoying doing research online. I recognize the “anxieties, challenges, concerns, dilemmas, doubts, problems, tensions, and troubles” that arise from digital fieldwork, particularly given that the quality of being virtual does not guarantee exemption from gendered, ableist, and racialized violence. However, these issues do not exhaust the methodological possibilities and relational potentials of online research, which I address in this blog post. (read more...)

Rocket Scientists and Their Games: A Little-Known Slice of History

In the 21st century, game companies are expanding what can be done with 3D interactive tools and virtual spaces. Companies like Epic Games are increasing blurring the lines between industries as diverse as simulation, film production, and a wide range of XR experiences (virtual reality, mixed reality, and augmented reality). In a recent example, an estimated 10.7 million people simultaneously logged on to Epic’s Fortnite for a live, in-game music experience(1). Over 30 years ago, the game industry was in its infancy, the Apple II personal computer had been introduced with little available software, and motivated people wrote their own programs. In 1986, a small Los Angeles game publisher called Electric Transit, Inc. released one of the first 3D games designed for a personal computer. Wilderness: A Survival Adventure, was a first-person, simulation/resource management game that could run under DOS or on an Apple II. (read more...)

The Messiness of Ethnography

Leaving academia forced me to think more deeply and critically about ethnography than I ever had before. In academic cultural anthropology, my classes, research, and readings all revolved around ethnography. However, my peers and I shared a basic understanding about the purpose of ethnography, the method of ethnographic fieldwork, and its definitions. Talk about ethnography often went largely unsaid, because, as cultural anthropologists, it was just what we did. (read more...)

Digital Mess as Method

Editor’s note: This is the second entry in the Second Project Series. This series explores an often undiscussed moment in professionalization: the shift from the research you began as a graduate student to the new work undertaken as an early- or mid-career scholar. This series is especially interested in personal journeys and institutional features that enabled or constrained this transition. If you are interested in contributing, please contact Lisa. There is a scene in season two of Mr. Robot where a smart house goes bad. Lights flicker, the stereo plays loudly, then cuts off, the alarm systems blares incessantly, and the temperature of the house drops. The wealthy inhabitant flees her domicile in dread. To her management company’s suggestion on how to fix the problem, she screams, “unplug what? Everything is inside the walls!” This scene condenses anxieties about the dark manipulable side of lifestyle technologies into one long jump cut of discomfiture. Indeed, when hackers can infect your thermostat with malware and demand ransom, these fears are re-legitimized. When I watch this scene, I see something else. The glitches in the house make me think of the ripples that disrupt the smooth functioning of our digital everyday. Those ripples are good things. They indicate that the data that surrounds us is uneven, imperfect, sloppy, full of holes. What if, instead of worrying about holes, we celebrate them? (read more...)